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How will you start?

Updated: Jan 1, 2021

It was a Thursday in December and we had our first real blizzard of the year.

There was so much snow.

So much glorious snow and only two days until the weekend.

At 3:00 pm, I left the office, which in this world of remote learning consisted of closing the laptop. I then spent the next several hours shoveling while gleefully picturing the first winter hike of the season. After hours of intense digging, I freed a KIA from the snowy depths and was excited about plans for Saturday's adventure.

Some people bake, pouring their love into cookies and cakes to savor and share. Some lose themselves in the melodies they lovingly coax from their instruments or the worlds they build with their canvas and brush. Some feed their souls with the bustle and energy of city streets or by running for miles or getting lost in the graceful power of the dance. If you follow this blog, you know that whether scrambling up peaks in the white mountains or strolling along a local tree-filled trail, it is when I am in the woods that I am whole.

Saturday morning began with waking comfortable and warm in my sweetheart's arms, free of the pain of the weekday alarm. I soon found myself curled on the couch, cradling a warm mug of coffee after a hot shower and a leisurely breakfast, with the prospect of a glorious winter hike ahead. If I left by noon, I'd still have many hours to enjoy the wintry woods before sunset.

At 11:30, I thought about gearing up, but there was plenty of time and I could spend a little more time scrolling through social media. At noon I realized that I should really do the dishes first and, not to worry, there was plenty of daylight left. At 12:15, it was warm inside and I was just going to send a few emails first and make sure I was out the door by 12:30.

Why is it so hard to do the things we love?

We know what fills us up. We know what brings us joy. When we are doing those things, we are so happy to be where we are, doing what we are doing.

So why is it so hard to start?

This makes me think of how often I have said, "I am angry". "I am stressed". "I am anxious".

These things are not true.

I am not anxious. Not ever.

Before you congratulate me on reaching enlightenment, I should clarify that I often feel anxious.

I am not anxious. I feel anxious. A difference of one word and yet what a world of difference. I am not my feelings, which means I can change my state whenever I choose.

But on Saturday, I struggled to start. I struggled to do the thing that would cause me to feel great happiness in an instant. I could say that the effort it takes to "gear up", the cold air, the thirty minute drive, these all were barriers to getting started.

But that answer, while logical, is too simple to be true.

See, this fall I gave a workshop to over a hundred professional educators, in which I taught tips and tricks for instantly changing your emotional state. Proven methods for hacking the brain and going from stressed to resourceful in a moment. I know that a few deep breaths can immediately activate the parasympathetic nervous system and cause stress to dissipate, replaced by calm. I have successfully used techniques like bilateral stimulation, spinning it out, or stopping the world to go from angry or anxious to centered and resourceful in a matter of seconds. I have practiced these things and I teach these things.

And yet, how many times have I felt anxious or angry or stressed and not taken those few magical seconds to change my state? There were no barriers of equipment or weather or distance, then. All it would have taken is the simple choice to pause and breathe.

Why is it so hard to start?

I think it is all tied up in the feelings of the moment. The resourceful action brings on the resourceful state but, ironically, that action is easier to access, to remember, when you are feeling resourceful. It is stored over there, in the resourceful place, but it is also the key for getting there in the first place.

The answer to this question could be life-changing. Whether you are like me and have obsessively studied these things for years or whether you simply know that if you just make a little time each day to play piano, you'll feel great, how many of us still have trouble starting?

But, perhaps that isn't exactly the right question. Why is all well and good, but perhaps the life-changing question is, how will you start? Even when you don't feel like it in the moment? What strategies will you use to get yourself started, until starting is such a habit, you no longer need the strategies? Because as hard as it may feel to start, it only takes a few seconds to change your state. It only takes a few seconds to choose happiness.

It was touch and go that Saturday. It was very likely that I was going to lose my long awaited day-off to a series of meaningless activities, avoiding the promise of an enchanted, snow-filled paradise because it was more comfortable to stay indoors than to start.

An hour later than originally planned, I laced up the boots, packed the micro spikes and drove the thirty short minutes to the hills. I was full of what can only be described as childlike glee at the magic of the snow filled woods, glittering in the afternoon sun, under a brilliant, clear winter sky.

The snow brings with it a haunting silence, a silence so deafening, it warrants the cliche. I hiked until sunset, feeling light and free in the sparkling magic of crushed diamond snow and wrapped in the serenity of velvety stillness.

I carry it with me, I remember it and write about it. Because I know that each time I intentionally make the connection between starting and the resulting joy, it becomes that much easier to start the next time.

Mountains may not be your thing. Hey, I'm not judging. What is your thing? What fills you up?

And, most importantly…

How will you start?

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